Muslim MPs unanimously support gay marriage in Germany, Islamic associations split on the issue

On June 30, the German Parliament voted to legalise gay marriage – or, as it has become known in Germany, the “marriage for all” (Ehe für alle). The path to this decision had been a tumultuous one; and the vote in the Bundestag came only after a surprise move in which Chancellor Angela Merkel, a long-time opponent of gay marriage, relinquished her principled opposition.

Downfall of a bastion of conservatism

While the Chancellor still voted against the marriage equality bill, her own party – the Christian Democratic Union – was split, with 225 CDU-parliamentarians opposing the bill, and 75 supporting it. The other parties – Social Democrats, Greens, and Left – gave the bill their quasi-unanimous backing.

Thus, many in the CDU were not willing to give up what has been perceived as one of the last core conservative positions of their party. A number of CDU politicians also adduced religious reasons for the rejection of the bill, deeming the opening of the marriage relation to homosexual couples a contravention of the Christian principles the CDU is grounded upon.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/gleichstellung-bundestag-beschliesst-ehe-fuer-alle-15084396.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Muslim MPs support “marriage for all”

Interestingly enough, none of the Muslim members of Parliament shared the qualms of the Christian conservatives. All parliamentarians of Islamic faith supported the bill. To be sure, the extent to which these men and women felt and identified as distinctly ‘Muslim’ when they made this decision is open to question. Most Muslims in Germany’s parliament are situated on the left of the political spectrum, in a milieu that is often quite secular.

The more interesting case in this respect is perhaps Cemile Giousouf, the CDU’s only Muslim MP and a strong backer of gay marriage. Giousouf has stated that her religious convictions were a “determining factor” in her decision to join the CDU:

“The CDU gives space to religious feeling. This is important for me. It is a party that represents a value-bound politics derived from the Christian conception of man. For the CDU, religion is not a marginal phenomenon. There are more commonalities than differences between Christians and Muslims. We both feel responsible to man and to our Creator for our deeds. Thus there was no question for me that my political commitment was right only in this party.”((https://www.welt.de/regionales/duesseldorf/article114268231/So-etwas-hat-es-in-der-CDU-noch-nie-gegeben.html ))

The conundrum of organised religion

Organised religion and its representatives remain split on the issue of gay marriage. On the one hand, the German Lutheran churches have for a considerable while abandoned any past opposition to the legal and religious recognition of homosexual partnerships.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church, in line with dogma from Rome, continues to oppose the “marriage for all”. Yet ahead of the vote in the Bundestag, the voice of the Catholic Church was scarcely heard and it seemed as if the Roman clergy had resigned itself a long time ago to the fact that, in spite of its dismay, the full recognition of homosexual marriage would only be a matter of time.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2017-06/gleichgeschlechtliche-ehe-katholische-kirche-ablehnung-reformation ))

Liberal-Islamic Union backs gay marriage

Islamic religious organisations did not figure as prominently in the recent public debate as their Christian counterparts. Yet they have not been completely absent, either. Already in May, 2017, the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB), a small socially progressive Muslim umbrella body, came out in support of gay marriage.

One of the LIB’s board members, Annika Mehmeti, highlighted that in no instance does the Quran explicitly define “marriage” as limited to a man and a woman. Nor does the holy book define the begetting of children as the sine qua non condition of the marriage relation. Instead, the Quran lays its focus on the mutual commitment of the spouses and on the duties they have towards each other, or so Mehmeti argues.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164652401/Der-Koran-erlaubt-die-Homo-Ehe.html ))

Silence of the conservative associations

The other Islamic associations, which tend to be more conservative in outlook, have been much more equivocal than the LIB. For the most part, they have simply avoided to comment on the issue of homosexual partnerships.

While some of their members will undoubtedly support gay marriage (or perhaps do not see it as such a big deal), many will also hold deep reservations. Against this backdrop, keeping silent may be a preferred option, since it allows the associations to dodge uncomfortable questions.

The mental gymnastics that the mainline conservative forces have had to undertake in this respect mirror the contortions of the Catholic Church. They are epitomised by a statement by Aiman Mazyek, media-savvy chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), in a 2016 interview:

“For my own part, and from a religious standpoint, I do not accept homosexuality. Yet at the same time I stand up against homophobia, as a Muslim.”(( http://zentralrat.de/27637.php ))

Popular Muslim attitudes

Among the German population at large, support for gay marriage had been high for a considerable number of years: in a 2013 survey, 87% of individuals unaffiliated with any religion, 78% of Protestants, 70% of Catholics, and 48% of Muslims had supported full marriage equality for homosexual couples.

Yet survey results are far from unequivocal. A 2012 study among Turks in Germany reported that 51% of respondents agreed to the statement that “homosexuality is an illness”.(( https://web.archive.org/web/20121011112234/https://d171.keyingress.de/multimedia/document/228.pdf )) Conversely, a 2015 study found that 60% of German Muslims supported gay marriage.(( https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/de/presse-startpunkt/presse/pressemitteilungen/pressemitteilung/pid/muslime-in-deutschland-mit-staat-und-gesellschaft-eng-verbunden/ ))

Pressure from abroad

To some extent, the unease and hostility with which the LGBT community is viewed from many Islamic quarters is not only – perhaps not even primarily – rooted in (putative) homophobic sensibilities among German Muslims. Rather, religious institutions and societal pressures from abroad continue to play a large role.

This dynamic has been in evidence in the context of the fierce criticisms directed at the recently opened “gender-equal” mosque in Berlin by Turkish and Egyptian authorities. In cases such as these, it is voices from Middle Eastern countries that make an opening towards ‘divergent’ paths more difficult to achieve for Islamic associations operating in Germany.

Resistance to Muslim-LGBT dialogue

This lesson was also learned in 2014 by Ender Çetin, chairman of the DİTİB-run Şehitlik mosque in Berlin at the time. He agreed to convene a discussion round between Muslim and LGBT representatives at his mosque. The resulting backlash came first of all from DİTİB’s Turkish parent organisation and from Turkish media: Turkish newspapers accused Çetin of opening the mosque to “abnormal” homosexuals.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/diskussion-in-berlin-homosexualitaet-und-islam-unvereinbar-1.2237310 ))

As a response, the meeting did not take place at the mosque, and a number of DİTİB’s theologians and clerics that had initially agreed to participate in the forum withdrew.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/diskussion-in-berlin-homosexualitaet-und-islam-unvereinbar-1.2237310 )) Since then, the purges of Turkish state organisations in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt have not stopped short of DİTİB, and the liberal-leaning governing board of the Şehitlik mosque has been at least partly removed.

‘Diversity’ and its pitfalls: The role of Muslim representatives in German parliaments

Ahead of this year’s federal election in Germany, it is worth taking stock of the current assembly and its composition. More particularly, given the particular focus on issues of immigration and integration in the election campaign, the number of Muslim representatives it is worth scrutinising. To what extent do German Muslims actually have the possibility to contribute politically to debates and legislative reforms on issues that their own community will be most affected by?

A growing number of MPs of ‘migration background’

When it was elected in September 2013, the 18th Bundestag, as it is referred to in official nomenclature, was the most diverse in the Parliament’s recent history: of its 630 members, 5.6 per cent or 35 MPs had a ‘migration background’. In German parlance, this refers to an individual that is either an immigrant or has a at least one parent born outside of the Federal Republic.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/09/24/bundestag-abgeordnete-mit-migrationshintergrund/ ))

This represents a marked increase over the previous legislative period, in which only 3.4 per cent of representatives had such a background. At the same time, these numbers remain a far cry from the 19 per cent of the overall German population who have at least one parent born abroad.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/09/24/bundestag-abgeordnete-mit-migrationshintergrund/ ))

A higher number of Muslim representatives

A similar picture obtains with respect to Muslim representatives. The number of Muslims living in Germany is an unclear – and, by now, politically contested – figure; yet some estimates put the number of Muslims living in Germany at the moment of the 2013 federal election at roughly 4 million, equivalent to 5 per cent of the country’s population.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/umfrage-zahl-der-muslime-in-deutschland-wird-deutlich-ueberschaetzt/10975728.html ))

At the same time, only roughly half of Muslims living in the contry also held German citizenship in 2013. A fair share of these two million Muslim citizens will, furthermore, be underage and thus not hold the right to participate at the polls. The Federal Office of Statistics thus estimated in 2009 that only 750,000 German Muslims were eligible to vote.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/yasin-bas/parteien-islam-muslime_b_9819518.html ))

In spite of this, the Muslim share of the German population is still underrepresented in parliament: a mere eight of the current Bundestag’s members are of Muslim faith, making for slightly less 1.3 per cent of parliamentarians. At the same time it is worth noting that the number of Muslim MPs more than doubled in comparison to the previous session of parliament (2009-2013), which included only three Muslims.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/abgeordnete-im-neuen-bundestag-fieser-freiherr-trifft-film-kommissar-1.1798554-4 ))

Split along party lines

With four of their 63 lawmakers adhering to Islam, the Greens supply the largest number of Muslim parliamentarians. One of the party’s leadership figures, Cem Özdemir, had, in 1994, become the country’s first Muslim MP.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/abgeordnete-im-neuen-bundestag-fieser-freiherr-trifft-film-kommissar-1.1798554-4 ))

A very vocal presence has been the first ever Muslim member of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Cemile Giousouf. Nevertheless, in terms of their voting behaviour and political affiliation, German Muslims have traditionally been closer to the Social Democrats than to the Conservatives; a fact potentially influenced by the working-class background of many of the so-called ‘guest workers’.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/migranten-und-politik-diese-parteien-waehlen-einwanderer/14851994.html ))

As Euro-Islam reported, a group of Turkish Muslim politicians is currently seeking to challenge this status quo, by building a Muslim platform within the CDU. Whilst offering potential electoral gains by increasing the Conservatives’ share of the Muslim vote, their initiative has been viewed with some suspicion by the party leadership.

Divergences at state level

Data is much harder to come by for Germany’s 16 state parliaments, let alone for local administrations. Browsing through the lists of state representatives published by the respective assemblies, however, confirms the broad trends observable at the national level.

Policy-makers of an immigrant and/ or Muslim background tend to fall on the left of the political spectrum. Often the roots of their political activism lie in the labour movement. What is more, a glance at the list of elected decision-makers from the urban city-states of Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen – all traditional strongholds of the left – consistently (and perhaps unsurprisingly) show higher levels of MP diversity.

Conversely, the parliaments of the traditionally conservative, territorially larger and more rural states of the German south such as Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria scarcely contain members whose names do not strike the voter as immediately ethnically German.

Interestingly enough, this pattern is replicated in the capitals of these two states, Stuttgart and Munich, in spite of the fact that these two cities are among the most ethnically diverse in the country. Low degrees of representativeness of immigrants and Muslims cannot, therefore, be simply a function of an lower share of immigrants and Muslims in the population at large.

Going beyond mere numbers

The number of Muslims and persons of different ethnic backgrounds in state and federal parliaments is, undoubtedly, important. These figures do offer important insights into the dynamics that allow or disallow all sectors of the population to participate in political life. In this respect, obvious deficiencies are apparent: Germany’s parliaments are clearly do not ‘represent’ – in a very basic sense of the word – the diversity of the country’s population.

Beyond that, however, we may also ask what the Muslim members of parliament actually do. In this respect, it is striking – even though again not necessarily surprising – that many of them fill the offices of ‘commissioners for immigration’ or ‘integration ombudsman’ or other ostentatiously ‘diversity’-oriented positions.

To be sure, this is nothing to object to in principle: it seems logical to entrust for instance issues of migration to people who, perhaps because of their own biography, might have an affinity and a passion for the issue at hand. In a political climate in which voices from all sides of the spectrum talk of ‘integration of Muslims’, it is key that a Muslim voice is also heard in the relevant governmental departments; otherwise, the conversation becomes one that is always about Muslims but never involves them as actors.

Poster children of ‘diversity’

Yet this lopsided participation of Muslim and immigrant representatives in governmental functions also seems indicative of a dynamic in which all those whose names and physiognomy indicate ‘diversity’ are first and foremost shunted into departments and positions in which they deal with ‘people of their own kind’.

On this somewhat unkind but arguably realistic appreciation of Muslim representatives positioning on the political scene, mere numbers are not necessarily indicative of equal participation. Surely many of Germany’s aspiring Muslim politicians or even politically interested youth would be interested in pursing other political offices not oriented towards ‘diversity’.

No hijabs to be seen

Finally, in none of Germany’s parliaments there are female members wearing the hijab. In part, this is undoubtedly due to the abovementioned fact that leftist parties are more likely to include Muslims (or women, for that matter). Conceivably, the secularist views of left-wing parties’ female Muslim members mean that they are simply less likely to wear the headcovering.

At the same time, the saga of judicial wrangling about issues of ‘state neutrality’ has been long and is ongoing. Consequently, prohibitions on the display of religious symbols in some domains of the public sector are in force in some of Germany’s federal states. Against this backdrop, a hijab-wearing MP would be a major challenge to the status quo.

In 2014, Muslim associations reported with contentment that a female Muslim student wearing a headscarf had completed an internship in the Bundestag office of her local Conservative member of parliament.(( http://islam.de/24212.php )) Whether she and other young Muslim women will be able rise to the position of MP in the future remains to be seen.

The truth about the ‘wave of attacks on Muslims’ after Woolwich murder

Fiyaz Mughal runs a project called Tell Mama, which receives £214,000 a year from the Government to monitor anti-Muslim attacks in Britain. In the wake of Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder, he has been understandably busy.

 

The media, especially the BBC, have accepted the claims without question. A presenter on Radio 4’s influential Today programme stated that attacks on Muslims were now “on a very serious scale”.

 

Talk of a “massive anti-Muslim backlash” has become routine. And it is that figure issued by Tell Mama – of, to date, 212 “anti-Muslim incidents” since the Woolwich murder – which has formed the basis of nearly all this reporting.

The unending “cycle of violence” against Muslims, the unprecedented “wave of attacks” against them from strangers in the street, the “underlying Islamophobia in our society” – all turn out to be yet more things we thought we knew about Woolwich that are not really supported by the evidence.

 

Although the service says its caseworkers “carefully handle each report as it comes in, to determine whether it can be verified and justified as an anti-Muslim incident”, Mr Mughal admitted that a further 35 of the 212 post-Woolwich incidents, or 16 per cent, had yet to be verified. He justified publishing the figure, however, saying he expected that all but a handful of incidents would be verified.

 

Fewer than one in 12 of the 212 “incidents” reported to Tell Mama since Woolwich – 17 cases (8 per cent) – involved individuals being physically targeted. Six people had things thrown at them, said Mr Mughal, and most of the other 11 cases were attempts to pull off the hijab or other items of Islamic dress.

 

Perhaps the most serious manifestation of anti-Muslim feeling after the killing was a number of attacks on mosques. These are believed to total 11, though here again evidence for a “wave of violence” is lacking. With only two exceptions, a mosque in Grimsby into which firebombs were thrown and another one in Essex where a man entered with a knife, all the incidents were relatively minor, such as window-breaking or graffiti.

 

According to the Charity Commission, there are between 1,100 and 1,500 mosques in the UK, so the number attacked is less than 1 per cent.

 

What the data broadly show, in short, is that Drummer Rigby’s killers have failed. The breakdown in community relations has not come. There has been a rise in incidents, but it appears to be very short-term, overwhelmingly non-violent and even then almost entirely at the lower end of the scale.

 

Yet this is not a message the Islamophobia industry wants heard, now or ever. Two months before the Woolwich killing, Tell Mama was already claiming that anti-Muslim incidents were “rising”, on the basis of reports made to its service. But at that point it had only been going for a year, so it had no previous figures to compare.

 

What evidence there is simply does not support the claims. There is anti-Muslim hatred in Britain, and it is disgraceful. But nearly all the evidence shows it is diminishing. In 2009 there were 368 anti-Muslim crimes in London; in 2012, there were 337. In the first 11 weeks of 2013, there were 64 crimes, equating at that point to 303 across the year, though the Woolwich attack will drive that up.

 

Broader political developments suggest a country increasingly at ease with Muslims. In 2009 the main anti-Islamic party, the BNP, had 55 councillors. Now it has two. The number of Muslim MPs doubled at the last election, some elected for entirely non-Muslim seats such as Bromsgrove, Gillingham, or Stratford-upon-Avon with no backlash whatever.

 

Muslim MPs come under pressure over the gay marriage voting

16 February 2013

 

Recently passed gay marriage law which enabled gay couples to marry in religious institutions have angered Muslim community since homosexuality is banned under the Islamic law. However, their feelings have become stronger after the voting in the Parliament since five Muslim MP voted in favor of the gay marriage. Muslim MPs came under harsh criticism from Muslim groups, some of those accused the MPs with “apostasy”.

 

It has been also reported that some of the MPs have received death threats over the vote. According to Daily Mail, Sadiq Khan, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary has received death threats after voting in favour of gay marriage. Police have told Sadiq Khan, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, that the threats are credible enough that he should review the security around him and his family following the Commons vote.

 

Mufti Muhammed Aslam Naqshbandi Bandhalevi, who is the head imam of the Jamia Islamia Rizvia mosque in Bradford, has issued a fatwa, or ruling, declaring Mr Khan an ‘apostate’ from Islam and said he should ‘repent before Allah’.

 

Hizbut Tahrir Britain said “some people hold up these MPs as examples for young Muslims to follow yet nothing could be further from the truth”.

 

Dutch Newspaper Profiles Muslim MPs

May 7 2011

Radio Netherlands Worldwide carries a profile on two Muslim politicians in the Netherlands, asking “what is it like to be a Muslim MP in a parliament that also houses well-known anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders?” Coskun Coruz (MP for the Christian Democrats) and Tofik Dibi (MP for the Green Left) are two of seven MPs identifying as practicing Muslims. In response to Wilders’ provocative comments regarding Islam Coruz comments, “It makes me feel quite unpleasant when Wilders says that stuff. Because it’s quite personal, it reflects on one’s character. And I’m not willing to change my religion.” According to Dibi, “I’m living proof that he’s wrong. I was brought up here, I’m Muslim, but I love freedom way more than he does.”

Number of Muslim MPs doubles in British general election

The number of Muslim MPs has doubled to eight in the closest elections in decades and saw the first three Muslim women — all Labour — elected to the 650-member House of Commons, the Muslim News reports. In addition, the first Conservatives have gained their first two Muslim MPs.

Over 90 Muslim candidates of various political persuasions stood in the general election, including 22 women. Three Muslim women, all Labour, became the first to enter parliament. The first Muslim woman to win was Yasmin Qureshi winning in the Bolton South East constituency in north-west England, but by a reduced majority of more than 8,600. Shabana Mahmood increased the majority of outgoing former International Development Secretary Clare Short from under 7,000 votes to more than 10,000 in Birmingham Ladywood in central England.

With the swing from Labour to Conservatives, one of two Muslim ministers, Shahid Malik, lost his parliamentary seat by just over 1,500 votes. But Transport Minister Sadiq Khan defied the swing to retain his seat.

Nadhim Zahawi, the chief executive of online market research agency YouGov, also became the first Iraqi Kurd to become a UK MP. Zahawi is of Christian background.

Veteran Vendor Lance Orton Is Times Square Hero

(CANVAS STAFF REPORTS) – “I’m not a celebrity, I’m just an average Joe,” Lance Orton told the New York Daily News Sunday night from his apartment in the Bronx. But this average Joe is being hailed as the savior of Times Square.

Orton is one of the street vendors who alerted police to the suspicious dark-colored SUV that contained a home-made bomb, reported The New York Times . Orton sells T-shirts near the area in which the car was parked.

He and Duane Jackson, a handbag vendor, were the first to notice that something was strange about the car. Jackson told MyFox NY’s ‘Good Day NY’ co-host Greg Kelly : “When the smoke started, I realized there might be more to this than meets the eye.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had dinner on Sunday night in Times Square with Jackson and NYPD Officer Wayne Rhatigan, who was alerted by the vendors and was the first to begin to clear the are around the SUV. Orton, though passed on dinner with the mayor, according to MSNBC.com .

According to Reuters , New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised Orton: “Lance Orton saw something and did something about it.”

Orton said in a TV interview after the incident that he’s been a street vendor for 22 years. Walking with a limp and wearing a Monster energy drink T-shirt, he said of his vending position: “I don’t have too much choice. Nobody’s giving me a job.”

Surrounded by reporters as he walked to a taxi on Sunday morning, Orton was a bit surly, claiming: “Part of my reason for having this attitude is I’ve given some of you interviews before and you wrote the opposite of what I said in the paper, so that’s my problem with you.”

When asked if he was proud of his actions, he said: “Of course, man. I’m a veteran. What do you think?” As he got into the cab, the Vietnam vet said his advice to the city of New York was: “See something, say something.”

Now Orton is being mentioned in news articles around the world. His family members are also being sought out.

Miriam Citron, the mother of Orton’s son, told the New York Times that Orton would regularly alert police if something didn’t look right: “When he was in Vietnam, he said they had to make decisions and judgments from their gut, from their own feelings … His instinct was telling him something’s not right.”

Orton’s mother, Jean Jarrett, told the Daily News : “I’m sure he saved a lot of lives.”

Muslim MPs to more than double

At least 80 Muslim candidates of various political persuasions are involved in a spectrum of intriguing contests for parliamentary seats around the country. The chances are that up to 15 could be elected, although more realistically it is likely to double up from four in 2005.

The outcome in the elections, which are going to be the closest for decades and includes so many uncertain factors, is likely to see both the first Muslim women MPs that could help more than double Labour numbers and the first Muslim Tory members in the House of Commons. In the frame with outside chances are also a couple of Liberal Democrats and different Respect candidates among many others who are in un-winnable seats.

Labour has no less than seven Muslims, including three women, defending seats, the Conservatives one and another selected to capture the Party’s number one target seat in Gillingham and Rainham. Respect also has chosen a Muslim candidate in Bethnal Green and Bow to stand instead of George Galloway, who is seeking re-election in the newly created Poplar and Limehouse next door. But Abjol Miah faces the unique challenge of Muslim rivals selected by all three main parties in the most populous Muslim constituency.